The Pickerington High School Central girls basketball team set the tone for a Division I district final on the first possession March 2, using a swarming half-court press to force a five-second call on Olentangy Liberty.
Sophomore forward Jocelyn Tate was the on-ball defender on the play, and after the top-seeded Tigers routed the 10th-seeded Patriots 56-21 at Ohio Dominican to win their fourth consecutive district championship, she said Central still works tirelessly on its half-court pressing and trapping despite a 25-1 record.
"The energy we brought was amazing. It affected me and I felt like I was able to play very well," Tate said. "Seeing how hyped we were made me hyped. I had to play that role. We struggle with our trap sometimes, but (March 2), we were on point. I love defense. It's my main role. It wins games. If I can't do well there, I am not having a good game."
Central eased past Liberty in a district final for the second consecutive year, leading 8-0 a little more than two minutes in and 18-0 after the first quarter. The Patriots were 0-for-12 from the floor in the first quarter and committed six turnovers, and as was the case in last year's 54-12 win, much of the second half was played with a running clock because the Tigers led by 35 or more points.
"We've always tried to set our tone on the defensive side of the ball and create opportunities for our offense. Our girls just came out with a different focus," coach Johnathan Hedgepeth said. "A lot of teams focus on the offensive side of the ball and how to get it done. We tried to take advantage of some of our length to have them throw over the top. The focus of trying to get back to where we were last year, we're locked in right now."
Maliya Perry's 23 points and eight rebounds led Central. Eleven of those points came in a roughly five-minute span in which the Tigers expanded their lead from 12-0 to 29-3.
"I felt like my teammates got me into the right position to get me the shots that I wanted," Perry said. "I was feeling it. I have to play every game like it's my last. I still feel like I have something to prove. Part of being a captain is being a leader and picking people up when they are down. I know they would do the same for me and that is why I play so hard. We always come in with the mindset that we're going to kill."
Perry had 18 points, five steals, four rebounds and four assists in a 69-33 win over 17th-seeded Dublin Scioto in a district semifinal Feb. 27 at Central Crossing.
Madison Greene added eight points, four rebounds, four assists and four steals against Liberty as Central advanced to a regional semifinal against Westerville South on March 5 at Otterbein.
The Tigers played the district final without junior guard Nicole Stephens, who injured her right ankle in the second half against Scioto and was in a walking boot March 2 but hopes to return this season.
The Central-South winner will play Newark or Reynoldsburg in the regional final Friday, March 8, at Otterbein. The regional champion advances to a state semifinal March 15.
The Tigers defeated Reynoldsburg 71-47 on Dec. 21 and 56-48 on Feb. 1 and beat Newark 61-50 on Feb. 9.
The latter win against Reynoldsburg gave Central its fourth consecutive OCC-Ohio Division championship. Unlike that night when the Tigers did not cut down the nets in celebration, they did so March 2.
"It is special," Hedgepeth said. "It's good to get those girls back to a place they're familiar with (the regional). To cut down the nets four times in a row, that's extremely special."
Boys basketball team reaches district semi
The boys basketball team played 26th-seeded Big Walnut in a Division I district semifinal March 6 at Gahanna, needing two wins to capture their fourth consecutive district championship and seventh in eight seasons.
Garner Wallace had 12 points and Jahvon Garcia scored 10 to lead third-seeded Central to a 64-23 rout of 44th-seeded Columbus West in a second-round game March 1. The Tigers led 25-9 after the first quarter and 49-10 at halftime in improving to 23-1 and winning their 11th consecutive game.
The Central-Big Walnut winner plays seventh-seeded Reynoldsburg or eighth-seeded Upper Arlington in a district final Saturday, March 9, at Greater Columbus Convention Center. The district champion advances to a regional semifinal March 14 at Ohio Dominican.
Central swept two OCC-Ohio meetings from Reynoldsburg during the regular season, winning 52-41 on Dec. 1 and 56-50 on Feb. 1.
Wrestlers come up short at district
No wrestlers automatically qualified for the Division I state tournament that runs Thursday, March 7, through Saturday, March 9, at Ohio State, although Bo Branson had a chance of competing at state for the second year in a row.
The junior went 4-2 and finished fifth at 120 pounds in the district tournament March 2 at Hilliard Darby, improving to 34-11 on the season and earning state-alternate status. He would compete only if an automatic qualifier is unable to do so.
The top four finishers in each weight class advanced to state.
Branson went 0-2 at 106 at state last year.
Earning sixth-place finishes at district were Trevor Mangahas (126, 3-3), Silas Pearson (182, 3-3) and Marcus Zullo (152, 2-3). Central finished 15th with 44 points behind champion Dublin Coffman (170) as 36 teams scored.
Also competing were Keaton Middendorf (160, 1-2), Dae'vion Hargrow (170, 0-2), Kaleb Mangahas (106, 0-2), Garrett Meek (heavyweight, 0-2) and Holden Walters (132, 0-2).
Bowling teams conclude season
Girls bowlers Jaycie Arnet and Kate Merkel came up short of individual berths to the Division I state tournament, although they both finished in the top half of the field at district March 2 at HP Lanes.
Arnet, a freshman, bowled a 499 three-game series and placed 29th of 104 individuals. Merkel, a junior, was 50th (456).
The top three teams and top three individuals not on qualifying teams advanced to state Friday, March 8, at Wayne Webb's Columbus Bowl.
That concluded a season in which Arnet and Merkel paced the girls team to a 6-5 overall record. Merkel led Central with a 149.7 average, followed by Arnet (142.8), juniors Kiara Kozak (132.0) and Kathy Burgess (118.7) and sophomore Frankie Moore (102.8).
With a balanced lineup consisting largely of upperclassmen, the boys team went 3-9 overall.
Senior Travis Allasi, a first-year bowler, had a team-leading 173.1 average. He was followed by junior Grant Gilkey (164.3), seniors Christian Kirton (161.6) and Evan Tailford (157.6) and junior Jamison Stoniosis (156.6).
Despite losing some key contributors on the boys side, coach Jason Roach cited depth at junior varsity as hope that both teams will be on more equal footing next season.
"I look at our j.v. bowlers and we had one night where they beat the boys varsity in a game (Feb. 14 against Hilliard Davidson)," Roach said. "We have some depth (on both teams) and we're building numbers. Hard work is contagious. They've gotten better and better. They will contribute right away (next year). We can fill them right in and they will be fine."